skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   6 March 1863

Down Bromley Kent

Mar 6. 1863

Dear Sir

I have been unwell for 12 days, & must write more briefly even than usual.—1 I used to think the husked Maize was wild & there is some evidence for S. America but I now hear from Asa Gray that it is very variable, I do not believe that it is the wild form.2 I do not know where seed could be got.

I enclose information about Passiflora.3 The experiment with P. quandrangularis which fruits in some places & not in others, would be specially good to try with other pollens.4 Thank you for the attempt to give me information on weeping trees.5 I have got much from Mr Rivers.6 I understand now about variability & bi-sexuality. I have been much interested by what you tell me on Primula, & hope to see all in detail in your paper.7 I am extremely glad that you are experimenting on Primulas of different colours. I sent Asa Gray’s Review by this morning’s post.8 I am very much interested about Gongora & fear more & more that I shall prove completely wrong about Acropera—9

I thank you for your criticisms on the Origin, which I have not time to discuss; but I cannot help doubting from your expression of an “innate.....selective principle” whether you fully comprehend what is meant by Natural Selection.10 Certainly when you speak of weaker (i.e less well adapted) forms crossing with the stronger, you take a widely different view from what I do on the struggle for existence; for such weaker forms could not exist except by the rarest chance.

With respect to utility reflect that 99100ths part of the structure of each being is due to inheritance of formerly useful structures. Pray read what I have said on “correlation”:11 Orchids ought to show us how ignorant we are of what is useful.12 No doubt hundreds of cases cd be advanced of which no explanation cd be offered; but I must stop. Your letter has interested me much—

I am very far from strong & have great fear that I must stop all work for a couple of months for entire rest & leave home.— It will be ruin to all my work.—

Pray believe me | Dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin



Lecoq De la Fécondation p. 70. says that several kinds cannot be fertilised by own pollen; but can be fertilised by that of other species; names not given.—13

(Transact. of Hort. Soc. of London Vol. 7. p. 95 Mr Mowbray I think (I see P. racemosa & alata set best by using pollen of one to other) gives names of species which he tried with same result.—)14

Bosse in German. Hort. Periodical (quoted by Gärtner Bastard s. 64) makes similar statements; & G. can confirm that P. racemosa can be more easily fertilised with pollen of P. cœrulea than with own;— &c &c—15

I have received 3 other private accounts of analogous cases; but cannot spare time to hunt them up; nor do I know whether names of species were given.16

I have found one case, viz that the Granadilla wd never set with own pollen, but would with pollen of Passiflora Edulis. Mr Scott. Gardener to Sir G. Staunton17


Gärtner (s. 357) twice found that L. fulgens, though producing certainly good pollen, could not be fertilised by it, but cd be fertilised by pollen of L. syphilitica & L. cardanalis.—18

Kölreuter (2d. Fortsetz. & 3d. Fort.) found that Verbascum phœniceum could be fertilised by 4 distinct species, but not by its own apparently good pollen.—19


Emma Darwin recorded in her diary (DAR 242) that after a fortnight of good health, CD became ill in the last week of February. She noted that he was: ‘faint in night’, ‘languid & heavy’ every morning, and ‘sick several times in course of week’. On 4 March she recorded: ‘Ch. better but occasional sickness’.
See letter from John Scott, 3 March 1863. Asa Gray gave this information in a missing postscript to his letter to CD of 10 November 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10). See Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 26[–7] November [1862] and n. 3.
See enclosure.
The reference is to the Sawbridgeworth nurseryman, Thomas Rivers. CD wrote drafts of the chapters on inheritance for Variation (Variation 2: 1–84) between 23 January and 1 April 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). His account of the weeping habit of trees draws heavily on information provided by Rivers. See also letters to Thomas Rivers, [14 February 1863] and 5 March [1863].
Scott was preparing a paper on the relationship between the form of reproduction and the heritability of variation in plants; however, the paper was never published (see letter from John Scott, 3 March 1863 and n. 13). Scott experimented extensively with species of Primula in 1863 and, at CD’s prompting, wrote a paper on the subject (Scott 1864a; see letters from John Scott, 21 May [1863], [3 June 1863], and 23 July [1863]).
On Scott’s success in pollinating the orchid Gongora atropurpurea, and on its implications for CD’s account of Acropera in Orchids, pp. 203–10, see letters from John Scott, 6 January 1863 and 3 March 1863, and letter to John Scott, 16 February [1863].
CD discussed what he called ‘Correlation of growth’ in Origin, pp. 143–50, stating that he meant by the expression ‘that the whole organisation is so tied together during its growth and development, that when slight variations in any one part occur, and are accumulated through natural selection, other parts become modified’ (p. 143).
One of the objects of Orchids was to show that there were many ‘contrivances by which Orchids are fertilised’ (p. 1), the purposes of which naturalists had not previously known.
Lecoq 1845, p. 70. There are annotated copies of the first and second editions of Henri Lecoq’s De la fecondation naturelle et artificielle des végétaux et de l’hybridation (Lecoq 1845 and 1862) in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 495–7).
William Mowbray’s observations on Passiflora were communicated by letter to the secretary of the Horticultural Society of London in October 1824; the letter is summarised in the notices of communications to the society (Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 7 (1830): 95–6).
Bosse 1829, p. 431, and Gärtner 1849, pp. 64–5. There is an annotated copy of Gärtner 1849 in the Darwin Library–CUL.
No letters on this subject have been found; however, see the account of cases of self-sterility in Passiflora given in Variation 2: 137–8.
George Thomas Staunton and Alexander Scott. CD’s source for this information has not been identified.
Gärtner 1849, p. 357.
Kölreuter 1761–6, 2: 9–40, 3: 2–5. There is an annotated copy of this work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 458–71).


Bosse, J. F. W. 1829. Ueber die Befruchtung der Passions-Blumen. Verhandlungen des Vereins zur Beförderung des Gartenbaus in den königlich Preussischen Staaten 5: 431–2.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1849. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich. Mit Hinweisung auf die ähnlichen Erscheinungen im Thierreiche, ganz umgearbeitete und sehr vermehrte Ausgabe der von der Königlich holländischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Kölreuter, Joseph Gottlieb. 1761–6. Vorläufige Nachricht von einigen das Geschlecht der Pflanzen betreffenden Versuchen und Beobachtungen. Leipzig: Gleditschischen Handlung.

Lecoq, Henri. 1845. De la fécondation naturelle et artificielle des végétaux et de l’hybridation, considérée dans ses rapports avec l’horticulture, l’agriculture et la sylviculture … Contenant les moyens pratiques d’opérer l’hybridation et de créer facilement des variétés nouvelles. Paris: Audot.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Answers JS’s criticism of natural selection, which he doubts JS understands. CD does not believe in an "innate selective principle".

To understand "utility" JS should read CD on correlation.

Origin of maize: no longer thinks husked form was wild because of Asa Gray’s evidence on its variability.

Has information from Thomas Rivers on weeping habit in trees.

JS’s experiments on coloured primroses.

Encloses bibliographical note on Passiflora.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: B66–8, B71
Physical description
9pp, encl Amem 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4031,” accessed on 28 November 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11